When packing clothes to travel to Ghana consider cultural factors and think: “ease of movement” and “hot.”
Culture of Dress in Ghana
It is important to look good in public and Ghanaians will spend time ironing their dresses and polishing their shoes before heading out the door. Many Ghanaians will make assumptions about visitors based on how they dress, particularly if the visitor is in Ghana for work or business. The better dressed, the more the more “seriousness” they will attribute to the person. Better dressed does not mean fashionable or trendy, but rather clean, neat, ironed and tidy. Men are as equally well groomed as their female counterparts. Men in offices tend to wear pressed suits or traditional Ghanaian dress such as a round-necked shirt or a woven smock with slacks. Women will wear suits, slacks or follow the “smart casual” rule. In some office environments jeans are acceptable.
While the old adage “don’t judge a book by its cover comes to mind,” travelers, backpackers or volunteers, are exempt from conforming to this cultural ideal as travel is a dirty and often disorganized business in Ghana. No one expects anyone to look primped and polished after a fourteen hour bus journey cramped between chickens and sweaty bodies. The excellent website Tour in Ghana provides more cultural and clothing travel tips.
Clothing for Female Travelers in Ghana
So what are the best clothes for traveling long hot distances in Ghana as a woman? The easiest clothing to wear in a hot country is light and loose cotton skirts, knee-length loose shorts or light long trousers like cargo pants or drawstring slacks. T-shirts, tank tops, and other stretch knit tops are a good bet. These items are also light and easy to roll up into small balls so as to travel with ease on the road. They also wash well and dry relatively quickly.
Clothing for Male Travelers in Ghana
Advice on clothing to male travelers is the same as for women: loose shorts or long trousers or jeans, light T-shirts or short-sleeve button down shirts are also popular. Shorts are acceptable in casual environments like the beach or traveling but not in the office.
Red dirt is ubiquitous across Ghana so leave white items safely at home otherwise they will become irreversibly dirty.
At the height of the rainy season in Ghana’s south, around June/July, and again in the dry season in December, the temperatures at night can become “chilly”, by Ghana standards, anyway. It’s worth packing one, light long-sleeved item to keep warm during these times and also when climbing and camping or sleeping at higher altitudes such as in the mountains of eastern Ghana in the Volta Region.
Party Clothing in Ghana
Dancing, night clubs, and attending formal and informal events are regular occurrences in Ghana. Travelers may find themselves invited to a wedding or a funeral (more a celebratory atmosphere than somber) so including one smart “going out” dress or outfit when packing is a good move. Alternatively, hundreds of seamstresses work along street sides all over Ghana and it only takes a day or two to have a beautiful, tailor-made outfit prepared for about US$10, including the cloth.
How Much is Too Much Flesh When Dressing in Ghana?
Ghanaians have a term, “Abuskuleke,” for women whose skirts or shorts are way too short, or tops are too low-cut, or for those whose dress is scanty, in general. Mini-skirts and short shorts are best for night clubs and the beach, but if these are worn while traveling most will assume this is to get attention, perhaps not for the best reasons.
There are a few simple rules so as not to offend Ghanaian sensitivities. Showing one’s mid-rift is considered taboo, so short tops or low sitting hipster trousers are best left at home. On the beach, however, the rules are suspended. Ghanaian women themselves wear bikinis and this is fully acceptable for visitors, too, as are more revealing beachwear.
Certain areas of Ghana such as the Northern Region and parts of the Upper East and Upper West are home to larger-than-average Muslim populations. Religious conflict, incidentally, is virtually a non-issue in Ghana. Christians and Muslims co-exist peacefully for the most part.
In terms of dress, there is no need to wear body-covering outfits in these areas, Ghanaian women in these areas wear jeans and tank tops and tightly fitting traditional dresses but it is respectful not to reveal too much flesh in dressing. Ensure skirts are at the knee and tops are not too revealing, but shoulders are acceptable.
Footwear and Travel in Ghana
It’s essential to bring one or two very comfortable pairs of light shoes including flip-flops or sandals like Birkenstocks. Running shoes or hiking boots are useful when trudging through forests or up mountains.
A final word of advice: Light, loose, and stretchy is best when traveling in hot countries like Ghana.